State-Centered Refugee Law: From Resettlement to Containment

This paper will explore the international regime of refugee law, seeking to show how legal “solutions” to the “refugee problem” are profoundly state-centered. I will argue that discussions of “solutions” in refugee law and policy have taken a dramatic turn in recent years, replacing an exilic bias with a source-control bias. This new orientation focuses attention on countries of origin, supporting repatriation and human rights monitoring before and after return. I suggest that the shift in emphasis, albeit grounded in part in humanitarian concerns, presents real risks when realized within a system committed to the protection of human rights in theory more than practice. Ultimately, source-control measures may end up being more about containment of migration than about improved protection of refugees. I will also argue that the state-centeredness of legal discourse has shown disturbingly little concern for the actual experiences and desires of refugees themselves. Whether, and how, the voices of refugees can find a place in the conceptualization of refugee law remains a task for the future.